A Passionate Scientist and Research Explorer
Selene Mota works for one of the world’s largest technology companies in the heart of Silicon Valley, worlds away from where she grew up. But Iguala, Guerrero – one of the poorest and most economically depressed areas of Mexico, is where Selene developed an invaluable sense of confidence that has helped her achieve the kind of success she never imagined as a little girl.
“My grandmother was such an inspiration for me because she was always very happy,” Selene said of the woman with little formal education who encouraged her to explore her environment and see how she can transform things in meaningful ways to help others. Thanks to that encouragement, “when things would break, I would go fix them,” explained the senior research engineer at Samsung Research America.
As a little girl fascinated with learning how things work, whenever a household item broke, “I’d say, ‘Wait a minute! So let me fix it!’ she said laughing, remembering how she rushed to a broken mixer, eager to pull it apart then put it back together again.
“I was like a maker when other people were playing with Barbies,” Selene said of her younger self.
That passion fueled a streak of honors for Selene: a national prize in math and physics in middle school; numerous national honors in physics as the only girl among 60 students at a technical high school; a scholarship to the prestigious Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico where she earned a degree in electrical engineering; a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she earned her doctorate with contributions to machine learning and computer science.
Selene now applies that passion and expertise to break new ground in mobile and wearable technology for Samsung.
“It is very difficult to scale up, to build technologies that lots of people can wear,” she said, “and I have been very impressed with how companies like Samsung make decisions. You have to be very bold when you introduce something new, when introducing products, so that people will care.”
The ability to develop meaningful mobile technologies on a large scale is one of the reasons that drew Selene to Samsung. Another that helps keep her here is the people: a team of about 60 engineers, designers and others called the Think Tank Team.
“It’s super creative,” she said of her work environment. “It’s very multicultural, so I have colleagues from all around the world,” a diversity that translates into a multitude of perspectives that helps foster openness and novel approaches to problems.
As Selene works to address some of the most interesting problems in the world of technology, the lessons learned from her grandmother keeps her grounded. And in return, she keeps her grandmother’s legacy alive by sharing those lessons with the young women she mentors through a nonprofit based in Oakland called Techbridge – an organization that aims to expand academic and career options for girls in science, technology and engineering.
“We have a lot to offer … as women in technology,” said Selene. “I think that we can offer new ways of seeing problems, new ways of solving a problem. It’s just very important that you follow your passion and enjoy what you do.”